On August 18, 2010, the South Korean fishing vessel, Oyang 70, capsized and sank while working in the New Zealand´s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), resulting in the loss of six lives.  Information provided by the survivors revealed a number of labor and human rights violations aboard the vessel, and suggested this type of abuse was not just limited to the Oyang 70.

Now, an investigation by the University of Auckland has revealed Indonesian fisherman working on Korean-owned vessels in New Zealand waters have found themselves subject to unbelievably savage work conditions and treatment at the hands of their Korean officers.

“Officers are vicious bastards … factory manager just rapped this 12kg stainless steel pan over his head, splits the top of his head, blood pissing out everywhere…,” one informant told the University of Auckland.

Written by Management and International Business staff Dr Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons, the report documents substandard conditions, verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation and threats, and absence of responsibility suffered by crew onboard particularly Korean fishing vessels.

Their research alleges:

  • Crew often beaten for little or no reason
  • Inhumane punishment such as being made to stand on deck for hours without food or water in extreme weather conditions
  • Sexual harassment, including rape
  • Fatigue causing accidents and injuries, and lack of protective or safety gear
  • Intimidation and threats involving crew and their families
  • Substandard conditions including little or no heating, drinking water a brownish rusty colour, food supplies rationed, crew fed fish bait
  • Denied medical treatment and accidents covered up or not reported
  • Muslim workers called dogs, monkeys and other names.

“In the old days, slaves were not paid and chained, now we are paid and trapped, but we are worse than slaves,” one of the 143 crew or observers interviewed in New Zealand and Indonesia told the researchers.

The study found that crew working on New Zealand-flagged vessels earned up to 10 times more than their foreign counterparts, whose salary is paid to manning agents and who work on average 112 hours per week with shifts up to 53 hours in length and with no time off for two years.

This issue is not isolated to New Zealand’s waters…

A 2009 United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking report revealed:

“An estimated thousands of Cambodian men, women, and children are trafficked annually to Thailand for the purpose of labor exploitation.  Some of the worst exploited are the men and boys who are deceived onto long-haul fishing boats that fish the waters of the South China Sea, including into Malaysian waters.  These boats, out to sea for up to two years or more, become virtual prisons on which the trafficking victims endure inhumane working conditions, and physical abuse.  

Death at sea is frequently reported, sometimes at the hands of the Thai boat captains.  The only way to escape is to jump ship when the boat goes ashore for registration/documentation purposes in places like Sarawak, Malaysia.” 

Their report “summarizes the facts about the trafficking of 49 Cambodian men and boys trafficked onto Thai long-haul fishing boats and assisted over the past 18 months by a network of responders spanning Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

There are some variations in the scenarios faced by these men and boys, but the common theme is deception and debt bondage by two or more Khmer and Thai brokers; their sale to a Thai boat owner for 10,000-15,000 Baht; slave-like working conditions at sea, including beatings, deprivation of food, inhumane work hours (for example, working 3 days and nights straight when nets need to be mended), lack of medical treatment for illnesses and injuries, and threats of death; and sometimes, reportedly, murder.”

“We were beat frequently by the Thai crew, on the back of the head and across the back.  The captain had a gun.  On shore [on Sarawak] we saw a Thai captain decapitate a Vietnamese fishmerman, and another Thai captain decapitate a Thai fisherman.”

- 19-year-old victim from Banteay Meanchey

Cambodian, fishing, worker, trafficking


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  • Grimnir

    Ah, yes; let’s repeal the Jones Act and encourage this sort of treatment of foreign mariners. Then, at least, we can continue to afford our Walmart shopping experiences.

  • lms1

    This is horrible!

  • EthicsIntl

    This is what the human animal is at heart. We have become the most degenerate life form on this planet and have been so for a long time.
    My grandfather looking to free himself and his family from the misery of poverty in Europe and after working in a shoe factory for six years in Boston, USA, from 1901 to 1907 returned to his home country in Europe to his disappointed wife and six children. When asked why in the world did he leave ‘America’ their only hope, he told them that ‘workers in America are treated worse than slaves’.
    Sometimes It is helpful to recall our past and our history.

  • Colin Smith

    During my days as a seafarers rights activist I found that certain nationalities were more cruel and brutal than others. Korea was one of, if not the, worst for their treatment of foreign crews on their ship. Some of it was due to resentment resulting from shipowners hiring crews of convenience and replacing their own nationals on their ships. This usually started with the unlicensed ranks, but soon spread to the junior officers. When you have national flag vessel with a national crew you have what is in effect a little piece of home, with all the customs, food, language and interests derived from home. The new foreign ratings are seen as invaders and blamed for making the fellow-nationals redundant. The persecution soon follows. I have seen this on Greek flag vessels too that have had their unlicensed crew replaced by foreigners. Africans in the latter have an especially bad time.  The resentment often combines with racism to render life unimaginable for these crews, subordinate as they are in rank and standing. I worked mostly on multi-nationally-crewed ships, and saw little evidence of this kind of treatment. But there were upwards of 13 different nationalities on board, and no group predominated. I don’y know the answer, except perhaps education and awareness training, or avoid split crews.

  • Josh Stride

    Colin Smith  QUOTE: “During my days as a seafarers rights activist…I have seen this on Greek flag vessels too that have had their unlicensed crew replaced by foreigners.”
    Hi Colin,
    I work for a human rights charity currently looking at human trafficking and exploitation aboard fishing boats, particularly those flagged to EU countries, fishing in EU waters or providing fish to the European market through European ports. Greece is one my areas of interest and I was wondering if you might be able to provide me some insights from your experience and perhaps the names of any people/organisations you know to be currently working on these issues in the region. Any assistance you can provide would be a huge help.
    If you are able to help, please email me at on joshstride@gmail.com.
    I hope to hear from you soon.
    Many thanks,

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